Australia was expected to enact a new legislation on Wednesday, June 27, to bar interference by foreign governments, reportedly aimed at tackling alleged China's meddling in its internal affairs, sparking more tensions with Beijing, one of its major trading partners despite odds in their relationship.
Taking a leaf out of the US's book, Australia's Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme asks lobbyists working for other countries to register themselves as foreign agents and they could face criminal prosecution if found meddling in the island-nation's own affairs, Reuters said.
In 2017, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull cited "disturbing reports about Chinese influence" while justifying the bill even though it impacted Canberra's relations - diplomatic and trading - with Beijing.
According to Bloomberg, two bills eyeing tough penalties for espionage and asking people or bodies acting in the interests of outside powers to register their ties were debated in the Senate on Wednesday, June 27, a day after they were cleared in the lower house of the parliament. These bills have the backing of Australia's major political parties and hence are unlikely to face much of a problem.
However, besides China, countries like Russia, Iran and North Korea were also in the list of suspects, as per the Australian premier, the Bloomberg report cited.
Meanwhile, China denied allegations of interfering in Australia's internal affairs and put up a diplomatic objection, the Reuters report added.
Chinese officials have bluntly criticised Australia over the matter. In May, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi blamed Canberra for the problem while last week, China's envoy to Australia Cheng Jingye asked Australia to shed its "Cole War mentality" which was hurting the relationship.
Australia's trans-Tasman neighbour New Zealand has also been reportedly penetrated by Chinese ambitions, an intelligence report said recently, undermining the integrity of the Five Eyes alliance, although New Zealand's government has denied the allegations.